On Wednesday, March 1st, members of the Kentucky Student Voice Team (KSVT) journeyed to Frankfort to attend the CROWN Act Rally at the Capitol Rotunda. Organized by ACLU Kentucky and the Real Young Prodigys, the event saw hundreds of students across the state joining forces to advocate for the passage of Senate Bill 63, colloquially known as the CROWN Act, which is designed to protect students and employees from discrimination based on their hair.
The CROWN Act was first introduced to California legislature in 2019; the acronym CROWN stands for “Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.” The legislation is the first of its kind to illegalize prejudice against hair styles and textures, notably that which disproportionately impacts Black women due to the negative impact such biases have on their personal and professional lives, and it has been passed in two Kentucky cities, Covington and Louisville. Since the act’s inception, it has been adopted by twenty states’ governments. However, Kentucky has yet to join this list–but not due to any lack of efforts by the bill’s supporters. Former Kentucky State Representative Attica Scott has filed the bill three times. In 2022, it finally succeeded in passing within the House Judiciary Committee, only for it to never make it to the House floor afterwards. Determined to not allow prior years to be a setback to this fight, five senators have once again co-sponsored the bill, which has already made it through committee in the 2023 session, but has yet to see a final vote.
At the beginning of the CROWN Act Rally, speakers included representatives from ACLU, Miss Black Kentucky USA, and Kentucky General Assembly itself. The speakers shared their experiences with hair discrimination and elaborated upon their investment in the bill. In describing how the passage of the CROWN Act would affect her life, the “Miss Division” Miss Black Kentucky winner Ariel Thompson said, “As Black women, we never know how our natural hair is going to be perceived in the workplace. This bill being passed would give us the freedom to be ourselves in every place.” Representative George Brown also spoke on behalf of the bill, highlighting the broader momentum behind it, and stating that even if the bill is not passed, legislators will continue to pour energy into it in every session until it is.
MJ Foster, a 17-year old from Clay County attended the rally with the student group, the Thompson Scholars, including her sibling CJ Foster. MJ spoke to KSVT on how the lack of a bill such as the CROWN Act has perpetuated a feeling that she is not valued by the government: “I do have curly hair and I wear my hair in braids. I want my rights and my body to be protected by the government. I think that…individual citizens should get the choice of how they want to appear. ” CJ Foster remarked on the implications this bill would have on their life at school, saying, “It will allow me to be less scared and be more confident in how I wear my hair in school.”
Later, outside of the Rotunda, the Real Young Prodigys led the crowd in chants, supported by a crowd and speakers that included KSVT Co-Founder Andrew Brennen, ACLU Organizer Jackie McGranaan, Rep. Brown, and Former U.S. Senate Candidate Charles Booker. The Prodigys performed spoken word poetry, dances, and even a song for the crowd in a proud showcase of the beauty in Black identity. “You are here to fight for your rights because you have just as many rights as anyone else,” Brennen said. “Welcome to the capitol, welcome to Frankfort...welcome to your house.”